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Kampong Cham's great debate

Kampong Cham's great debate

Vote for me, and your life will improve-that was the simple campaign carrot from

the big three political parties at a June 29 debate in Kampong Cham, the country's

most populous province.

Ith Prang of the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) joined Funcinpec's You Hokry

and opposition leader Sam Rainsy to tell a 1,000 strong audience how their respective

parties would solve economic, agricultural, education, health, security and social


Rainsy leads the SRP's ticket in Kampong Cham, while Hokry is placed at number two

for Funcinpec, below party head Prince Norodom Ranariddh. Ith Prang is at number

eight on the CPP's list.

Candidates were warned they would be dismissed from the stage if they insulted an

individual or a political party during their two-minute speeches detailing their

commitment to solving the nation's problems.

Rainsy was unperturbed, and weighed in against coalition partners CPP and Funcinpec,

accusing them of serious corruption. He said graft had damaged the economy, the judiciary,

security and people's standard of living.

Neither Hokry nor Prang was keen to address that topic, but Prang did talk about

impunity in Kampong Cham, which recorded the highest number of murders ahead of last

year's commune elections. Prang told the audience that impunity was a sensitive issue,

and said the country needed to "strengthen its armed forces in order to improve

security for the people".

Hokry, who is co-Minister of Interior, said the royalists would repair the weak judiciary,

and establish a system of investigating crimes that would lead to the arrest and

punishment of perpetrators.

"The judicial system is bad," he said of the royalist-run ministry. "Suspects

are always released and therefore free to commit crimes again. So we have to take

action against this."

Opinions were mixed on how well the big-hitters comments went down. One 52-year-old

CPP supporter, who asked to remain anonymous, said he was impressed by the all three

candidates' speeches.

"Each party had similar policies, but Sam Rainsy expressed a strong commitment

and I wouldn't be surprised if he took the Prime Minister's seat," he said.

"This debate has helped me to consider casting my vote for another party."

But other CPP and Funcinpec supporters told the Post after the two-hour meeting at

Wat Angkor, just outside the provincial capital, that they would remain loyal to

their parties. None would permit their names to be used.

One long-time CPP loyalist said his vote would stay with the ruling party as it had

served the country well, both in terms of unifying the nation and in trying to improve

development. And a Funcinpec supporter said he would like to hear further debates

before deciding whether or not to switch his allegiance.

Mark Wallem, the senior resident director of the National Democratic Institute, a

civil society NGO which organized the proceedings, said the value of debates was

that voters could address their concerns directly to candidates.

"As the issues are discussed, voters learn more about party platforms, identify

the differences between them, and learn more about the candidates running for office

in their province," Wallem said.

The NDI's coverage of the question and answer sessions will be screened on television

beginning July 10, once their content is approved by the National Election Committee


The NDI is observing debates between candidates and voters in twelve of the Kingdom's

24 provinces and municipalities between June 26 and July 6. Fourteen of the 22 political

parties competing in the national election will take part in the debates.

* The 22 competing parties gave their responses to one of the most pressing problems-fighting

corruption. The five-minute broadcasts were produced by the NEC, and allowed party

representatives to put forward their ideas. They were screened twice on the state

television station, TVK, on June 28, and transmitted twice that day on the two state-owned

AM and FM radio stations.

Nuon Bunna, president of the Cambodian Women's Party, said her party would write

new laws to prevent and eliminate corruption. Among the measures it would take: examine

the issue of civil servants' salaries; introduce labor laws in order to improve living

standards; avoid human rights abuses; and punish civil servants, government members

and citizens who flout the law. Nepotism and bribery among high-ranking government

and court officials would also be punished.

The Rice Party's president, Nhoung Seab, told viewers that a genuine democracy-which

included respect for citizens' ideas and media freedom, including broadcasts on political

corruption-was the only way to stamp out corruption. Seab promised a national corruption

committee, and pledged to include anti-corruption laws, including a provision for

account checking, in the Constitution.

The Free Democratic Party (FDP) said it would raise the monthly salaries of civil

servants and the armed forces to at least 600,000 riel ($150), create an independent

body responsible for preventing corruption, and establish a special court for long-term

investigations. Other FDP measures included making all civil servants declare their

assets, reform the bureaucratic infrastructure of public services, lighten the administrative

load, eliminate gambling, smuggling, and drug dealing, and educate youth about the

consequences of corrupt activities.

Bun Uy of the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) said his party was absolutely

against corruption and strongly supported punishment for such criminal acts. The

CPP would focus on good governance as the general framework within which it would

be able to stamp out corruption.

"[The CPP] will also set up a citizen's complaints office, and plans to embrace

any anti-corruption measures introduced on an international scale," Uy said.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy was vocal as always in his criticisms. He said the SRP

would act against illegal logging, smuggling, human rights abuses and people selling

public assets for personal gain.


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